An Hour’s Wage (Forthright 6/8/2004)
by Barbara Ann Oliver
It was late. He had arrived early that morning before anyone else. It was just a spot in the road, indistinguishable from any other spot. But soon it was crowded with men.
The young ones were snatched up first. Off to the vineyards they went, secure in their strength and good fortune. They would earn their wages that day, for the work was difficult and the sun was already hot.
One by one, they were carted off, until there were only a few left: the older ones, the weaker ones. He stood among them, his hopes fading with the day. He knew he should just go home. But how could he face his family? How could he go home without money for food?
Five o’clock. Feeling defeated, he started toward home when the landowner returned. He approached the few stragglers. “Why have you been standing here idle all day long?” “Because no one hired us.” “You too go into the vineyard.” He ran to the wagon and climbed in with the rest.
Barely an hour later, the landowner ordered them to line up for their pay, the last man first. He took his place at the front of the line. His hand trembled as he waited for the few cents he would receive. He tried not to feel disappointed. Would it be enough to pay for a sparse evening meal?
Amazed he watched as the landowner placed a whole denarius in his hand. He stood transfixed until the man behind pushed him out of the way. Tears filled his eyes. This couldn’t be! His thoughts were echoed aloud by an angry voice.
“What is going on here?” shouted one of the hired men. “These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.” The landowner replied, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? … is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (Read Matthew 20:1-16).
It was late. He knew he should have done this before time had made him an old man. His shoulders were stooped with age and the burdens of a life faced alone. What good was he to God now? How could he be forgiven at this late date?
He stepped into the aisle.
He could feel their eyes on him. How could these people forgive him? They knew him. They were the ones he had ridiculed. They were the ones he had called hypocrites! He felt as if he would drown in guilt and shame before he ever reached the water.
Fear gripped him. But no! He would not let pride keep him from obeying. He wanted to be forgiven. He wanted to turn his life around, with God’s help. He couldn’t face the short number of days ahead without a Savior. He had wasted too many years on earth. He would not waste his eternity.
At the water’s edge, his whole life flashed before him. He confessed Jesus, with tears, as he was lowered into that grave of water. He arose. He turned to face his new family and saw their smiles, their tears of joy. What a generous God, to accept him at the eleventh hour!
His thoughts were echoed aloud by the preacher’s voice, “Now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).